D.C. United-New England Takeaways: Fabi and Bill show

D.C. United fell behind to a fast start by New England but came back from an early deficit to down the Revs, 2-1, in their Eastern Conference Knockout Round match at RFK Stadium Wednesday.

United fell behind in the 15th minute to a spectacular overhead goal by Juan Agudelo and fought off several more attacks before equalizing in the final minute of the first half on a Chris Pontius header. Chris Rolfe clanged a penalty kick off the base of the post but a superb buildup presented him with a chance to atone, and he tapped in the winner from a Fabian Espindola feed.

Here are three takeaways from a memorable night in the pouring rain at RFK:

1. Fabulous night for Fabi.

Espindola, 30, has endured good and lean times since joining United from the Red Bulls. He scored 35 goals and logged 17 assists for Real Salt Lake in six seasons (2007-12) and was a mainstay of its success, but was shipped off to New York in a salary-dumping move.

He scored nine goals in 28 goals for the Red Bulls before joining United for the 2014 season, which ended in disgrace when he shoved a match official and was handed a six-game suspension for the start of the 2015 campaign.

On Wednesday, the Revs couldn’t contain him, and though a superb save by Revs keeper Bobby Shuttleworth denied him a goal he continually pressured and probed on the left flank. A great corner kick to Pontius produced the equalizer and his intelligent overlap got him into position to square the ball Rolfe tucked away for the winner.

Espindola, as the long suspension showed, has a volatile temperament that has landed him in hot water before. But he resolutely stuck to his task in tough conditions and helped propel United into the next round.

2. Hamid the hero, again.

Several times a season for the past few years, head coach Ben Olsen has lamented his team’s over-dependence on Bill Hamid, who won Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2014 and has been every bit as good this year.

While D.C. has certainly struggled defensively at times in 2015, there’s also the fact that Hamid’s quickness of foot and powers of anticipation get him to balls other keeper can’t even reach. In the first half, he twice stoned Kelyn Rowe; the first time with a diving hand save going to his right, and then on a point-blank chance Hamid scrambled across his line to block with his chest. His chest! So quickly did he close down Rowe, going from one post to another, the Revs attacker had no angle for his shot.

United controlled most of the second half, so Hamid was rarely called into action. Yet still needed him to stab up his right hand to repel a point-blank header by Jermaine Jones in regulation.

3. The handball brouhaha.

Referee Mark Geiger whistled for a penalty kick when a deflected cross struck the arm of Revs midfielder Scott Caldwell, and ignored a ball that bounced off the hand of Sean Franklin as he dueled at close range with Jones in stoppage time.

There are among the toughest calls for a referee, and opinions about the validity of each call ranged through the gamut: one right, one wrong; both right; and both wrong.

The situations were compared as if they were similar and they weren’t. Geiger apparently ruled that Caldwell was far enough away -- several yards --- when a low cross from Alvaro Saborio caromed off the foot of Jose Goncalves to get his arm out of the way. It was a close call, but Geiger was in excellent position and made his decision immediately.

Franklin was marking Jones tightly when the Revs midfielder kicked the ball and from his reaction -- Jones quickly drew a red card and was sent off -- it seemed an act of desperation had prompted Jones to play the ball as he did with Franklin right in his grill. 

My take? I don't call either one. But the case for a PK is certainly stronger on the first one.

TRIVIA. The long history of these teams includes a 2004 playoff game in which head coaches Ben Olsen and Jay Heaps squared off as players. Both failed to convert penalty kicks after the teams played an incredible 3-3 tie at RFK in the Eastern Conference final (a one-game playoff at the time). Brian Carroll hit the decisive PK and United went on to beat Kansas City, 3-2, in the final for its fourth -- and last -- title.

Oct. 28 in Washington, D.C.
D.C. United 2 New England 1. Goals: Pontius (Espindola) 45, Rolfe (Espindola, DeLeon) 83; Agudelo (Alston) 15.
D.C. United --
Hamid; Kemp, Birnbaum, Boswell, Franklin, DeLeon, Halsti, Kitchen, Pontius (Saborio, 54), Espindola, Rolfe.
New England -- Shuttleworth; Alston, Goncalves, Farrell, Tierney, Jones, Caldwell (Kobayashi, 87), Fagundez (Bunbury, 51), Nguyen, Rowe, Agudelo (Davies, 70).
Red Card: New England -- Jones 90+2.
Referee: Mark Geiger.
Att.: 11,554.
11 comments about "D.C. United-New England Takeaways: Fabi and Bill show".
  1. Paula Barrett, October 29, 2015 at 9:56 a.m.

    All players want is consistency, clearly a handball, I've never been one to blame refs but Geiger seems to be getting worse with every game and the dangerous plays that he allowed are also very concerning for player safety. Playoffs should not be an excuse for violence. Also, where are the assistrnt refs in these games?? Do your job!!

  2. James e Chandler replied, October 30, 2015 at 9:23 a.m.

    There's a reason Geiger is an international referee, and you're not. Take the time to read the USSF position paper on the subject.
    The play preceding Johnson's tirade, and send off is exactly the reason why the definition of "deliberately handling the ball" was refined, so a player in the penalty area could not benefit from deliberately trying to hit a defender's arm to win an undeserved penalty.
    I laugh when people yell "handball" since it's a word that isn't in the Laws of the Game. The only place you might find it is in a clarification where referees are advised to ignore it when people yell "handball" just because the ball contacted someone's arm.
    And another thing, announcers and analyst that don't know the LOTG, and their official interpretations, and clarifications should be fired.

  3. James e Chandler replied, October 30, 2015 at 9:32 a.m.

    sorry, meant "Jones", not "Johnson"

  4. beautiful game, October 29, 2015 at 10:55 a.m.

    Ridge, i respectfully disagree with your take on the PK calls. Ref Geiger swallowed the whistle on more than several occasions. His interpretation of the rule book is highly questionable when it comes to him not cautioning players for chopping down the opponent without playing the ball. As for the DC defender's handball in the penalty late in the game, he had no courage to signal a PK when he was in plain sight of the infraction when Franklin's hand moved upwards to strike the ball. On the contrary, he whistled a PK on NE when the handball was highly inconclusive. Geiger has selective interpretation of the rules and in many cases he is derelict in being consistent.

  5. James e Chandler replied, October 30, 2015 at 9:43 a.m.

    It takes more courage to not call handling when thousands of knuckleheads, many of whom have never read the Laws of the Game, or their official interpretations, are yelling "handball"

  6. Doug Broadie, October 29, 2015 at 12:19 p.m.

    I've always said, Geiger would be a good ref if he called handballs correctly. I agree with Ridge, no PK on either, although Franklin's looked more like handling (not handball) than the other PK. I didn't see it clearly enough on my computer to tell. I agree that Geiger has dropped from a good ref to a middling one. I think that has to do with Peter Walton's interpretation of the laws. When he had FIFA refs coaching him at the WC, I thought he was excellent, not allowing those bad tackles. When he came back, he reverted.

  7. Mark Buckley, October 29, 2015 at 3:56 p.m.

    My only concern is that Jones is suspended for at least 6 games next season. That was Espindola's punishment for the same offense. So since we're all so concerned about consistency, 6 Games.

  8. Bob Ashpole, October 30, 2015 at 12:34 p.m.

    Regarding the "handball brouhaha" Geiger's opinions are the only ones that matter. Much ado about nothing. Interesting contrast this year between Jones and Espindola. Jones was actually shown a yellow for dissent before the straight red card. Despite Agudelo's wonderful goal, Hamid had a big night. Interesting contrast to LA's experience losing to Seattle.

  9. Paula Barrett, October 30, 2015 at 3:31 p.m.

    My main point was that watching Geiger, he has no consistency and if I recall correctly, and I'll be the first to admit my memory isn't so great any more, he was also horribly inconsistent in the Gold Cup. I feel strongly that there are some refs who are markedly improved in mls (Toledo comes to mind) but Geiger is on a downward slide.

  10. Bob Ashpole, October 30, 2015 at 10:33 p.m.

    Paula, Jones kicked the ball into the defender at point blank range. The ball hit the defender's leg and chest before bouncing off his arm. In contrast on the other play, the passer was attempting to play the ball through a gap between the defenders to a team, the defender who handled the ball was defending the passing lane about 10 yards away, when his arm prevented the through pass. Professional players are not clumsy or inattentive.

  11. Bob Ashpole, October 30, 2015 at 10:34 p.m.

    "...to a teammate..." I should have written.

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